The time has come, due to these difficult times that humans are living with this Corona Virus pandemic. You know you need to start blogging to grow your business, but you don’t know how. In this post, I’ll show you how to write a great blog post in five simple steps that people will actually want to read. Ready?
Table of Contents
Step 1: Plan your blog post by choosing a topic, creating an outline, conducting research, and checking facts.
Choose a Topic That Interests YOU
There’s an old maxim that states, “No fun for the writer, no fun for the reader.” No matter what industry you’re working in, as a blogger, you should live and die by this statement.
Before you do any of the following steps, be sure to pick a topic that actually interests you. Nothing – and I mean NOTHING – will kill a blog post more effectively than a lack of enthusiasm from the writer. You can tell when a writer is bored by their subject, and it’s so cringe-worthy it’s a little embarrassing.
You also need to be able to accept that not every post is going to get your motor running. Some posts will feel like a chore, but if you have editorial control over what you write about, then choose topics you’d want to read – even if they relate to niche industries. The more excited you can be about your topic, the more excited your readers will be when they’re reading it.
Write an Outline For Your Post
Great blog posts don’t just happen. Even the best bloggers need a rough idea to keep them on-track. This is where outlines come in. An outline doesn’t need to be lengthy, or even detailed – it’s just a rough guide to make sure you don’t ramble on and on about something tangential to your topic.
Do Your Research
One of the biggest secrets professional bloggers (myself included) don’t want you to know is that we don’t actually know everything. Truth be told, sometimes we don’t know anything about a topic before we sit down to write about it.
Check Your Facts
A few years ago, I edited a piece written by a colleague focusing on the highlights of a major technology conference. The writer, under a seriously tight deadline, had done a bang-up job of writing great copy in virtually no time, but he failed to properly check his facts. He cited an article from Forbes in which the writer claimed Steve Jobs was using PowerPoint on stage – something that never happened.
Step 2: Writing a Great Headline
Everyone and their grandmother has an opinion about headlines. Some say you should be as specific as possible (to avoid misleading your readers and manage their expectations), while others recommend taking a more abstract approach. Vague headlines might work just fine if you’re Seth Godin, but for most of us, being specific is better.
There are two main approaches you can take to writing blog post headlines. You can either decide on your final headline before you write the rest of your post (and use your headline to structure your outline), or you can write your blog post with a working title and see what fits when you’re done.
Another common technique is posing a question in your headline. Done well, this can be extraordinarily effective, as it is in these examples:
- Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter?
- Would You Be Part of a Crowdsourced Environmental Warning System?
- What Do Uber, Zenefits, and Public Health in a Kenyan Slum Have in Common?
However, this technique is also growing tiresome, and fewer publications are utilizing it these days (thankfully alongside the always-irksome “You won’t believe…” headline). If you opt for asking questions in your headlines, be sure it’s a question your audience will be genuinely interested in.
Writing headlines for blog posts is as much an art as it is a science, and probably warrants its own post, but for now, all I’d advise is experimenting with what works for your audience. If your readers want hyper-specific case studies on how to do stuff, by all means let ‘em have it. Don’t, however, do something just because someone else is, especially if it’s not resonating with your audience.
Step 3: Write your post, either writing a draft in a single session or gradually word on parts of it.
There are two main approaches to writing a blog post. You can either sit down and write an entire draft in a single sitting (my preferred workflow), or you can chip away at it gradually over time. There is no right or wrong answer here – only whatever works for you.
However, I’d recommend getting as much done in one session as possible. This makes it easier to stay focused on the topic, minimizes the chance that you’ll forget crucial points, and also lets you get the damned thing out of your hair faster.
Even if you work more effectively in short bursts, try to maximize the amount of writing you get done in those sessions. The more times you have to revisit a draft, the more tempting it is to add a little here, and a little there, and before you know it, you’ve gone wildly off-topic. Get as much done as you can in a single sitting even if you prefer to draft a blog post over three or four writing sessions.
Like most skills, writing becomes easier and more natural the more you do it. When you first start, you might find that it takes a week (or longer) to write a post, but with practice, you’ll be knocking out great posts in hours. Unfortunately, there are no “hacks” or shortcuts when it comes to writing – you have to put in the time at the coalface.
NOTE: A lot of people struggle with writing introductions. A great strategy is to write the introduction last. Just get into the meat of the blog post, and worry about the introduction later. Here are five easy ways to write a great introduction.
Step 4: Use images to enhance your post, improve its flow, add humor, and explain complex topics.
Writing for the web is an entirely different animal than writing for print. Oftentimes, people simply don’t have the time, will, or ability to focus on lengthy blog posts without some visual stimulation. Even a well-formatted blog post consisting solely of text is likely to send your reader screaming back to Reddit or Twitter within minutes, which is why it’s so important to include images in your posts.
Images Help Your Blog Post Flow More Effectively
One of the most important reasons to include images in your blog posts is to break up the text. Many people scan blog posts rather than pore over every word, and interspersing images throughout the copy will make your post seem less intimidating and more visually appealing.
Images Make Great Visual Punchlines
Everyone likes a good laugh, and a well-chosen image can help lighten the tone of your posts and inject some much-needed humor into a piece. This can be particularly effective if you’re writing about a dry (or flat-out boring) topic.
Images Make Complex Topics More Easily Understandable
That’s why images are an essential part of your blogging toolkit if you’re hoping to expand your audience. Diagrams, charts, infographics, tables, and any other visual assets can help your readers understand abstract or complex topics and grasp the points you’re trying to make.
Step 5: Edit your blog post.
Actually writing a blog post is hard. Editing a blog post is harder. Many people mistakenly assume that editing is simply striking through sentences that don’t work or fixing grammatical errors. Although sentence structure and grammar are both very important, editing is about seeing the piece as a whole and, sometimes, being willing to sacrifice words (and the hours it took to write them) for the sake of cohesion.
I won’t explicitly tell you to check your spelling and grammar – you should be doing that anyway. I will, however, offer some self-editing tips and suggestions on how to tighten up your writing so that it packs a punch and keeps your readers scrolling.
Few things are more jarring to read than repetition of certain words or phrases. Once you’re done with the first draft of your blog post, read through it and check for words that can be replaced to avoid repeating yourself.
Read Your Post Aloud to Check Flow
This is a trick that many writers learn in workshops. If a piece reads awkwardly out loud, it will probably read awkwardly in your reader’s mind. It might seem a bit weird, but force yourself to read your post aloud to check for wordy bottlenecks or contrived sentences. Find yourself struggling with the flow of a sentence? Rework it until it rolls off your tongue.
Have Someone Else Read Your Work
This is crucial for inexperienced or casual bloggers. Asking a friend or colleague to check your work isn’t an admission of weakness or a sign of failure – it’s a commitment to making your work as strong as it possibly can be.
ask someone with editing experience to proof your work. Also, be sure that they understand you’re not looking for help spotting typos or grammatical errors (but if they do, great), but that you want to hear their thoughts on the flow of the piece and whether it makes sense structurally. Do your points come across well? Is your position on a contentious topic clear? Does the piece prompt the reader to think or challenge an existing belief? Is the advice you’re offering worth following? These are all questions that having another set of eyes read your work can help answer.
Keep Sentences Short and Paragraphs Shorter
Nothing will intimidate or outright anger a reader faster than huge walls of text. It’s a common mistake for inexperienced bloggers to make, and one I see far too often in a lot of online articles.
Sentences should be as short as possible. They’re easier to read, making your audience’s job easier. Shorter sentences also reduce the likelihood of going off on tangents. For example, I recently came across a sentence in an opinion piece in Wired that had no fewer than seven subordinate clauses, an editorial sin of almost unimaginable magnitude. Paragraphs should also be short and sweet. The shorter the paragraph, the more likely your readers are to keep going. The “rules” of paragraph structure have been bent a little since web-based publishing became the norm, but try to keep individual ideas isolated to their own neat, short little paragraph.
Accept That Your Blog Post Will Never Be Perfect
There’s no such thing as a perfect post, and the sooner you come to terms with this, the better.
I’m not advocating for publishing sloppy work, nor am I saying you shouldn’t be obsessive about the details. I am saying, however, that even the best blog posts could always be better, but time is always against us. Again, unless you’re Seth Godin, you probably need to publish more than one post a month, so agonizing over every post will sap you of the desire to write and waste precious time – not to mention likely to incur the wrath of your editor or content manager.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Cuts or Adapt on the Fly
You may have forgotten, but I originally included a section in the example outline for this post that dealt with optimizing blog posts for SEO. I fully intended to write this section, but when I looked at how my first draft was shaping up, I realized this was too substantial a topic to tackle in an already lengthy post. As a result, I made the decision to cut this section from the post altogether. I purposefully left the outline intact to demonstrate that you shouldn’t be afraid to make editorial decisions like this.